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Retailers at eTail diverge over responsive Web design’s benefits

August 14, 2014

lovesacPHILADELPHIA – Responsive Web design was a big topic at eTail East 2014, with many retailers planning to launch responsive sites in time for the upcoming holiday shopping season while others insisted the strategy lacks the necessary customer focus to ensure success.

A key takeaway from the conference is that retailers are still struggling to figure out what works on mobile. The understanding is there that the mobile use case is different but how best to meet the needs of mobile users is still elusive.

“We are working on creating a rich tablet experience for customers, but we also see mobile as a tool for our sales associates in our stores to be able to show how furniture looks with different covers, for example,” said Darren Johnson, vice president of digital strategy and product management at furniture retailer Lovesac Corp., Stamford, CT.

“We are working on creating the ideal customer experience first, then we will make it responsive,” he said.

“We want to make sure we are providing the optimal customer experience, rather than jumping on the latest idea everyone else is doing.”

Mobile a necessity
Responsive Web design enables sites to be written once and deployed across multiple devices. While a much simpler process than developing multiple sites for the growing number of Internet-enabled devices being used by consumers, there are problems with responsive Web design.

For example, it can result in data-heavy sites that can take a long time to load on mobile devices. For the mobile user, who is typically on-the-go and looking for quick online engagements, a slow site can be frustrating and cause retailers to lose sales.

Responsive Web design also makes it challenging for retailers to create features, content and functionality geared specifically for the user mobile, an increasingly important competitive advantage on mobile since the use case is different.

Taylor Gifts, a former catalog company that offers home décor and As Seen on TV products, currently has an m-dot site but is exploring responsive design.

“Mobile is definitely heating up, especially with the holiday season coming up, it’s going to just get bigger and bigger,” said Laura Vahle, online marketing coordinator at Taylor Gifts, Paoli, PA. “People are going across devices to do research.

“Our demographic skews older, so it’s a little different for us, but we do have a mobile site.”

Customer experience
Astor Chocolate Corp., a retail supplier, expects to take its site responsive in the next six months.

“We are currently revamping our Web site, and will make it responsive,” said Steve Boldt, marketing and design director at Astor Chocolate Corp., Lakewood, NJ. “Mobile is a must.

“With email, we can get away with mobile-optimized, not responsive, but for the Web site, we need to be responsive,” he said.

“We’re also working on building more e-commerce into the site.”

Ken Frazza, director of Web production at Century 21 Stores, said his company is carefully considering how to edit content for mobile sites, given the channel’s rapid growth. He said Century 21 Stores, which operates a chain of apparel and accessories stores in New York and New Jersey, has seen a 60 percent increase in visitors to the Web site via mobile in the last year.

“We really have started to look at it with almost a mobile-first mentality, to see how is it going to work from a mobile device,” Mr. Frazza said.

“When you have a picture of a product like a men’s jacket and a call to action, it might look great on desktop, then when you get it down to tablet, it gets smaller, and then once you get to a mobile phone it is even smaller.”

At consumer electronics retailer Lenovo, the company is considering implementing responsive design on a widespread basis. The United States is currently the only country where the company’s Web sites is still adaptive rather than responsive.

“We were hesitant at first,” said Lewis Broadmax, executive director, sales and marketing, North America, “But we have since found that other geographies have started seeing better results, so we are going to start doing some A-B testing.”

Fitting mobile in
Some retailers are still struggling to figure out where mobile fits into the picture for them.

“It’s hard to generalize what the importance of mobile is for everybody,” said David Grocer, president of online paper products retailer PaperStyle, Alpharetta, GA. “I think it depends what your goals are.

“In our business, what’s important is to be able to browse and learn,” he said. “Our customer should be able to review design options for bridal shower invitations or wedding invitations for example to determine if there are designs that meet their needs.

“Few people are actually going to design their wedding invitation on a smartphone.”

Mr. Grocer gave a presentation at eTail East 2014 about the importance of customer service, and noted that he feels his company’s attention to providing a high level of speedy, knowledgeable customer service translates well to mobile. In particular, tablets are proving to be a source for orders.

“We are seeing more orders on tablets,” Mr. Grocer said. “We view tablets as very similar to desktop.

“For us, we think our business will continue to be done on tablet and desktop for a long time,” he said

“Our customers need to make sure every detail is just right, and that’s hard to do on a smartphone. Personalizing your wedding invitation on a phone is still a ways away.”

Final Take

Mark Hamstra is content director at Mobile Commerce Daily, New York

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